Ninja in popular culture

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Three people in black costumes
People dressed as ninja during the Himeji Castle Festival in Himeji, Hyōgo, Japan in 2009
Subway train with cartoon characters and lettering on its side
Iga Railway Line ninja-themed trains in Mie Prefecture, Japan in 2010
People posing in costume
Kyushu Ninja Preservation Society, 2012

A ninja is a stock character in Japanese and international popular culture. The cultural references listed below are separated by category: novels, comics, anime and manga, games, television and music. Live-action films and video games are discussed in separate articles.


Ninja killing a snake with a sword
Jiraiya battles a snake with the help of a toad; woodblock print on paper by Utagawa Kuniyoshi, about 1843

Depictions of ninjas range from realistic to exaggerated. A stylized ninja commonly wears a dark hood or mask, and can move stealthily. According to Glenn Morris, ninjutsu in Western popular media has been incorrectly associated with the image of an "unemotional, heartless assassin" due to the influence of Ashida Kim, Frank Dux and Eric van Lustbader.[1] According to a 2011 article in The Guardian, "in Japan, ninja are now something of a national myth, a slightly cartoonish composite of old folk tales and modern pop culture."[2]

Ninjas are popular characters in Japanese folklore, jidaigeki literature and the performing arts; Ishikawa Goemon was the subject of a number of kabuki plays, and Sarutobi Sasuke has appeared in Japanese children's stories since 1911. Koga Unôn Ninjutsu Kogaryû is a 1916 silent film.[3] Ninja-themed films and books became popular in Japanese culture during the 1950s and early 1960s. In Japan the word shinobi and its variants are often used, rather than "ninja".

The first major appearance of ninjas in Western pop culture was a secret commando force used by Japanese intelligence in the James Bond film, You Only Live Twice (1967). The 1960s TV series The Samurai sparked interest in ninjas among young Australian viewers, but ninjas were unnoticed in other Western countries until later.

Young person in costume, holding a scroll and artist's brush
Naruto character cosplayer

Western interest in ninjas increased during the 1980s, particularly in the United States (where several American ninja movies starring Sho Kosugi were released early in the decade). Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in the late 1980s and early 1990s and Naruto in the 2000s were also ninja-themed.[4][5]

Ninja characters are identified by their use of traditional blade weapons and their superhuman abilities, such as running on water and up walls. Although they are depicted as nearly invincible when they are the heroes of a story, they may also be "redshirts" to be dispatched by a story's protagonist. Modern ninja depictions show them attacking in large numbers or as nearly-invulnerable, solitary warriors.[6]


Further information: List of ninja films

Manga and anime[edit]


For ninja anime theatrical films and OAVs, see Japanese anime.
Four people in costume
Ninja Hattori-kun cosplayers at Comiket 76

The following manga and anime series feature ninja:

Sanpei Shirato has written ninja-themed manga, including Akame – The Red Eyes,[11] Band of Ninja (Ninja Bugeicho) (later adapted into an anime film),[12] Kaze no Ishimaru,[13] Ninpou Hiwa, Ookami Kozou, Ninja Senpuu, The Legend of Kamui and Watari (later adapted into the live-action film, Watari, the Ninja Boy).[14]

Other appearances[edit]

Although the following stories feature a ninja character, they are not ninja-themed:

Supporting ninja appearances include Ah! Itoshi no Banchousama (Hirayama Hayaka's ninja bodyguard), Bobobo-bo Bo-bobo (OVER's Ninja Assassin Corp and the Ultimate Five Assassins), Code Geass (Sayoko Shinozaki), Cutey Honey, Dinosaur King (episode "Ninja Nightmare"),[17] F-Zero: GP Legend (Dream), Hero Tales, Hunter x Hunter (Hanzo and Machi), Hyper Police (Kasumi), Is This a Zombie? (Seraphim), Kamen no Maid Guy (ninja maids Shizuku and Tsurara), King Arthur, Kinnikuman (the Ninja), Kirby: Right Back at Ya! (Kirby becomes a ninja and works with Benikage and Yamikage in the episode "Visiting Ninja, Benikage!"), Kotetsu no Daibouken (Kagari), Lone Wolf and Cub, Machine Robo: Battle Hackers, Magical Nyan Nyan Taruto (Rakugan), Magical Princess Minky Momo ("Ninja Arrived! Momo is Ninja"), Mega Man Star Force (the Tribe-On transformation Green Ninja), Metal Fighter Miku ("Pretty Four vs The Lady Ninjas"), Miami Guns, My-HiME/My-Otome (Akira Okuzaki), Oh My Goddess! (Marller's ninja trio), Planetes (Tanabe's neighbors in "The Lunar Flying Squirrels"),[18] the Pokémon series and Pokémon: The Electric Tale of Pikachu (Aya, Koga-Kyō and Janine-Anzu), PQ Angels, Ranma 1/2 (Konatsu, Sasuke Sarugakure, and Shirokuro), Saber Marionette, Sailor Moon (the villain of the week Ninjana-Oniwabandana), Sakura Wars, Samurai Champloo ("Bogus Booty" and "Baseball Blues"), Samurai Girl: Real Bout High School, Sengoku Collection (Kotaro Fuuma), Sonic X (the E-91 Lady Ninja and Espio the Chameleon), Sorcerer Hunters, The King of Braves GaoGaiGar (Yūsha Ō GaoGaiGā) (Volfogg), Those Who Hunt Elves, Tower of Etruria (Palmyra),[19] Ultraman (Alien Baltan), Yami to Bōshi to Hon no Tabibito, Yakitate! Japan ("Nin Nin Nin!! My Way of Ninja!"), Yoshimune (Kunoichi), YuYu Hakusho (Team Shadow Channelers).



Ninja-themed novels include:

Ninjas have minor roles in Shōgun, Thief of Time, Vineland[24] and the Young Samurai series.

Non-Japanese comics[edit]


Scantily-clad young woman with a sword
Psylocke cosplay, 2014

In the Marvel Universe ninja have appeared as antagonists and allies, such as Spider-Man's foe White Ninja,[25] X-Men supporting character Yukio, Ghost Rider's foes Deathwatch and Death Ninja,[26] Wolverine's mentor Ogun, Hawkeye (as Ninja Ronin), the Punisher's friend Katherine Yakamoto (from Shadowmasters),[27] Pacific Overlords operative Kuroko (Aya Komatsu), Blackhawks member Kunoichi and the original owner of Psylocke's Asian body, Revanche (Kwannon). In the Marvel Mangaverse, Spider-Man is the last member of a ninja clan. A sinister ninja cult, the Hand, appears in X-Men and Daredevil. The cult and its associates were responsible for the martial training of Psylocke, Elektra, Daredevil, Black Tarantula, Kitty Pryde, Lady Bullseye and Wolverine. The Hand's good counterpart is The Chaste, and it struggles with its Korean offshoot (the True Believers,[28] including Dragonfly (Meiko Yin)).[29] Characters with ninja abilities also appear in the DC Universe; one is martial artist and assassin Lady Shiva, who kills Armless Master.

In the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT) series, all four main characters and many of their friends and foes are ninja. The G.I. Joe comic-book series features ninja more than the cartoon series.

Other comics[edit]

Other ninja-themed comics include:

Less notable or short-lived titles include Codename: Ninja,[35] Corporate Ninja,[36] Savage Ninja,[37] Surban Jersey Ninja She-Devils[38] and Zombee.[39] The Amelia Rules! series included A Very Ninja Christmas.

Ninja have supporting roles in Chastity, G.I. Combat (Kana[40]), Karate Kommandos,[41] Lucha Libre (the Pom Pom Ninjas),[42] Les Naufragés d'Ythaq, Masters of the Universe (Ninjor),[43] Rebirth (the hero's ally, Eiji Inaba),[44] Sam Noir (villains),[45] Scott Pilgrim (Roxanne "Roxie" Richter), Spike: Shadow Puppets, Sonic the Hedgehog (Uma Arachnis and the Arachne), The Order of the Stick (Therkla and others), The Tick (Oedipus),[46] Usagi Yojimbo (ninja of the Neko,[47] Mogura and Komori clans, including Kashira Chizu),[48] Y: The Last Man (Toyota).


Non-anime, ninja-themed TV series include:

Ninja-themed Super Sentai and Power Rangers shows include Hikari Sentai Maskman and Ninpū Sentai Hurricaneger. Footage of Ninja Sentai Kakuranger was used in season three of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.

Ninja Warrior (Sasuke) and Women of Ninja Warrior (Kunoichi) are two Japanese sports entertainment shows that are featuring (respectively) male and female competitors on an obstacle course. In the Prank Patrol shows, "ninja" are the show helpers setting up the pranks.

Cartoon series[edit]

Ninja appeared in Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog ("Robo-Ninja"), American Dragon: Jake Long (Huntsman and Rose), Batman Beyond (Curaré of the League of Assassins[54]), Batman: The Animated Series (Kyodai Ken in the episodes "Night of the Ninja" and "Day of the Samurai"[55]), Chop Socky Chooks (Ninja Chimps),[56] Karate Kommandos (a Chuck Norris series), Code Monkeys ("Revenge of Matsui"), Codename: Kids Next Door (Teen Ninjas), Conan the Adventurer ("Shadow Walkers",[57] "Dragon's Breath" and "Sword, Sai and Shuriken"), Danny Phantom (Bertrand), Digimon Data Squad (Falcomon), 'Eon Kid (Black Beauty and her ninja robot army), Family Guy (in "Wasted Talent" and "I Take Thee Quagmire"), Happy Tree Friends (Generic Tee Ninjas), Jackie Chan Adventures (the Shadowkhan) Johnny Test (one of Johnny's transformation is Ninja Johnny), Kim Possible (the Yamanouchi ninja school), Planet Sketch (Ninja Handyman),[58] Robot Chicken, Road Rovers ("Let Sleeping Dogs Lie"), Samurai Jack ("Samurai versus Ninja"),[59] Skunk Fu (Ninja Monkeys), South Park ("Good Times with Weapons" and "Fantastic Easter Special"), Stroker and Hoop ("Ninja Worrier" and "Chopping Spree"),[60] Superman: The Animated Series (Death Fist Ninja), Teen Titans (in "Masks", Beast Boy has a video game "Super Ninja Showdown 8"), The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius ("Crouching Jimmy, Hidden Sheen"), The Adventures of Super Mario Bros. 3 ("Sneaky Lying Cheating Giant Ninja Koopas"), The Legend of Prince Valiant ("The Ghost"),[61] The Legend of Zelda (Sing), The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest ("Night of the Zinja"),[62] The Simpsons (in "The Telltale Head" Bart Simpson disguises as a ninja; in "Treehouse of Horror XVIII" one of the aliens is dressed as a ninja, in "Husbands and Knives" the Comic Book Guy has ninja weapons, and in "Yokel Chords" Bart plays a spoof video game with a female ninja), The Transformers (Greatshot, Nightbird and Prowl), The Venture Bros. (Otaku Senzuri), Wolverine and the X-Men, Xiaolin Showdown (Tubbimura) and Randy Cunningham: 9th Grade Ninja

Live-action series and advertising[edit]

Ninja appeared in Baretta ("The Ninja"), Big Wolf on Campus ("Play It Again, Samurai"), Charmed ("Awakened"), Criminal Minds ("True Night"), Danger Theatre ("Tropical Punch: Lethal Luau"), Dude, What Would Happen ("Ninja Slicing"), Knight Rider (1982) ("Knight of the Rising Sun"), Kyojuu Tokusou Juspion (the Five Space Ninjas), Kung Fu ("The Assassin"), Magnum P.I. ("The Arrow That is Not Aimed"), Mito Kōmon (Tsuge no Tobizaru and Kagerō Ogin), Mortal Kombat: Konquest (alternative versions of Kitana, Mileena, Reptile, Scorpion and Sub-Zero), Quincy, M.E. ("Touch of Death"), She Spies ("Fondles"), Shōgun (a ninja castle raid), Simon & Simon ("Opposites Attack"), Space Sheriff Shaider (Girls' Army), That '70s Show ("Jackie Moves On"), The Greatest American Hero ("Thirty Seconds Over Little Tokyo") and Verbotene Liebe. Ninja villains appear in the Super Sentai series, such as Negative Syndicate's Dark Shadow clan in GoGo Sentai Boukenger (Gekkou, Yaiba and Shizuka), Miratrix and some other of Kamdor's henchmen in Power Rangers: Operation Overdrive, Ninja Org Duke Dorodoro in Hyakujuu Sentai Gaoranger (Onikage in Power Rangers: Wild Force), Dora Ninja in Kyōryū Sentai Zyuranger (Dark Warrior in Mighty Morphin Power Rangers season one), Shinobilar in Denkou Choujin Gridman and Kirikage in Mahou Sentai Magiranger. Ninja appared in television advertisements for Alior Sync bank,[63] Anime Network,[64] Bombay Sapphire,[65] Clamato,[66] FedEx,[67] Free Realms,[68] Honda Civic Si,[69] Mitsubishi UFJ Securities,[70],[71] Nicorette,[72] Nike,[73] Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection,[74] Oregon Lottery,[75] Pepsi,[76] Pop-Tarts,[77] and Sure.[78][79]


Video games[edit]

Young person in black-and-yellow costume
FanimeCon 2012 cosplay of Scorpion, a Mortal Kombat ninja character

In addition to video games, several game-development companies use "ninja" in their name: Ninja Studio, Ninja Theory, Ninjaforce, NinjaKiwi[80] and Team Ninja.

In massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs) "ninja", "loot ninja" or "ninja looter" describes a player who has stolen something from another player. This is pejorative; if a player is called a "ninja" in a game they may be rejected by the community and find it difficult to join guilds or raid parties.[81]

Role-playing games[edit]

There are several ninja-themed role-playing games (RPGs):

Other games[edit]

Ninja appear in collectible card games, such as Legend of the Five Rings CCG, Magic: The Gathering and Mortal Kombat Kard Game, andminiature wargames such as Heroscape.[94]



Several musicians and bands have the word "ninja" in their names:

Shadow Warriors, a side project of guitarist Sam Totman of British metal band DragonForce, utilizes ninja-related themes in their music. A four-song EP, Power of the Ninja Sword, was released in 2001.[96]


A number of titles have the word "ninja" or "ninjas":

The bands 7 Seconds of Love, Concord Dawn (in Uprising), Europe (in The Final Countdown), ICP (in Tunnel of Love) and Jay Chou have songs entitled "Ninja". GO!GO!7188 and Afrirampo each have a song entitled "Kunoichi" (on Ryūzetsuran and A', respectively).

Songs with "ninja" in their title include "Deadly Lethal Ninja Assassin" by Reuben (on We Should Have Gone To University), “Hoodie Ninja” by mc chris (on mc chris is dead), "Imaginary Ninjas" by Vince Dicola (on Falling off a Clef), "Inner Ninja" by Classified (on Classified), "Ninja Goon" by Gruvis Malt (on Sound Soldiers), "Ninja Hi-skool" by Bis (on Play Some Real Songs: the Live Album), "We Are Ninja" by Frank Chickens (on We Are Frank Chickens), "Ninja Highschooool" by Peelander-Z (on P-Pop-High School), "Ninja Rap" by Vanilla Ice (on the TMNT II soundtrack), "Ninja Step" by RZA (on the Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai soundtrack), "Ninja Quiet" by Marco Beltrami (on World War Z: Music from the Motion Picture), "Supa Ninjaz" by Method Man (on The Pillage, and "This Secret Ninja" by AFI (on Very Proud of Ya).




Tourism and other business[edit]

Costumed, masked character striking a pose
Entertainer at Edo Wonderland, Futami, Mie, 2009

Iga Ueno Ninja Festa, the annual ninja festival in the Japanese city of Iga in the former province of Iga, has had ninja-inspired performances, competitions and opportunities to practice ninja skills since 1964.[101] Iga also has the Iga-ryu Ninja Museum, ninja-style restaurants and cafes.[2] In the United States, ninja-themed restaurants include Ninja New York in New York City[102] and the Flying Ninja sushi bar in San Francisco.[103] There are American roller coasters named Ninja in California and The Ninja in Missouri.

Other ninja attractions in Japan[2][104][105] include the Koga Ninja Village[106] and Kogaryu Ninjutsu Yashiki (Ninja Houses)[107] in Koga-gun, Shiga Prefecture, the Togakushi Ninja Village for Children,[108] the Togakushi Ninpo Museum and Karakuri Yashiki (Ninja House)[109] in Togakushi, Nagano, the Edo Wonderland[110] theme park in Nikkō, Tochigi, restaurants Men no Sato[111] and Ninja Akasaka in Tokyo[112] and Ninja Kyoto in Kyoto.[113]

Four young women dressed in black
Attendees at a one-day ninja camp in Koga Ninja Village, Kōka, Shiga, 2011[114]

Businesses include Ninja Jump, an American company producing licensed inflatables;[115] Web Ninja, an Australian e-commerce website-design team;[116] Ninja Message, an Australian direct-to-voicemail service;[117] Ninja Tracking Systems, a British GPS developer;[118] Ninja Polish, an online nail-polish retailer;[119] Ninja Pyrate, a fire show equipment workshop;[120] Crystal Ninja, a crystal design studio;[121] Lactose Ninja, a manufacturer of lactose-intolerance remedies[122] and the Ninja Company, a Eurasian toy manufacturer.[123]


Ninja-themed websites include:

In information technology, "cyber ninja" are sophisticated counter-hackers.[124]


Scantily-clad young woman on black-and-green motorcycle
Sony model on Kawasaki Ninja motorcycle at Importfest 2013 in Canada

Products named for ninja include:

Other products are CardNinja, a wallet phone case;[133] Majestouch NINJA Tenkeyless, a computer keyboard from Diatec Corp;[134] Modela Ninja Pibow, an enclosure for the Raspberry Pi computer;[135] Ninja Driver, a USB stick wrap;[136] Ninja Flex, a type of safety glove;[137] NINJA Plus, a CPU cooler by the Japanese company Scythe;[citation needed] Ninja Remote, a television-control device and IR jammer[138] and SwimmingNinja, a swimbait lure.[139]

In software, CartNinja is a browser application.[140] Ninja Email Security is the former name of the VIPRE Email Security for Exchange antivirus and antispam filter.[141][142] Ninja Lite is a video telephony program,[143] and Photo Ninja is a RAW converter program.[144]

Armed groups[edit]

Several paramilitary, police and militia groups use the names (or nickname) "Ninja" or "Ninjas":

See also[edit]


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External links[edit]